(Adds background on dispute, fresh Schumer quotes)
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - Chuck Schumer, the top U.S. Senate Democrat, expressed regret on Thursday for remarks he made a day earlier that two Supreme Court justices appointed by President Donald Trump would “pay the price” if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions.
“I’m from Brooklyn. We speak in strong language. I shouldn’t have used the words I did. But in no way was I making a threat. I never, never would do such a thing,” Schumer said on the Senate floor amid calls from Republicans that he apologize for his comments about Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Schumer on Wednesday, in comments made during a rally outside the Supreme Court building directed at Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, said the justices “won’t know what hit you” if they rule in favor of abortion restrictions in a case the Supreme Court was hearing that day.
“I want to tell you Gorsuch, I want to tell you Kavanaugh - you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price,” Schumer said during the speech.
Schumer’s comments prompted condemnation from Chief Justice John Roberts.
“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous,” Roberts said in a statement.
Trump also weighed in late on Wednesday and other Republicans followed suit on Thursday, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I don’t know where to start. There is nothing to call this except a threat, and there is absolutely no question to whom it was directed,” McConnell said.
Schumer’s remarks were made during an abortion rights rally held while the nine-member court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, heard arguments in an abortion case from Louisiana. Roberts could be the pivotal vote.
Schumer on Thursday said the words he used in the speech “didn’t come out the way I intended to.”
“Of course I didn’t intend to suggest anything other than political and public-opinion consequences for the Supreme Court. And it’s a gross distortion to imply otherwise,” Schumer said. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)